“Walking the streets, I have always been impressed by the thought that everybody one sees is the center of his own universe, and that his preoccupations loom larger than what is happening in the world around.” (pg 68)
In a house on the outskirts of Paris, a 21-year-old woman, the narrator, lives with her father, mother, and brother. The mother has psychological problems and is an alcoholic who goes on a bender and then a self-imposed drying-out almost on schedule. The father started in the military, but now has an office job handling paperwork in the secret service. The brother is two years younger than the sister and still a student, while the narrator herself, Laure, is a lab assistant in a Paris hospital.
The conflict occurs on two fronts – at home the family has employed a Spanish maid, and though the narrator’s brother has started up an affair with her, the father also begins to desire the maid, seeing her in hotel rooms on her days off. This creates tension with all the rest of the people in the household, except for the maid herself, who lives in her own carefree bubble in the otherwise tense and gloomy home. At work, Laure has started up an affair with the much older professor overseeing her section, a relationship she seems to prefer over seeing someone her own age with whom she may have a future.
There is a small mystery tacked on near the end of the novel, when the maid disappears and the reader is left to wonder at several different things that may have become of her. But the main emphasis is on the psychological pressures everyone is under, the way that “family life is not what we are given to believe” (pg.116), and the isolation that can occur even between people that interact face-to-face every day.